Grizzly Bear have been away for about five years now and have now returned with their first since the wild and windy ‘Shields’. Early tasters of their new material give the impression that they are heading in a well constructed synth pop direction with their unique take on harmony and melody intact. Bound to be much anticipated.
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Praised ahead of schedule, I’ve always felt that Grizzly Bear’s best record has been growing in secret, waiting beyond the treeline. ‘Yellow House’, their loose, freaked out debut proper, gave way to a band of constant refinement and careful detailing, proof of Ed Droste’s and Daniel Rossen’s commitment to a signature sound; the critically beloved ‘Veckatimest’ strode towards structure and pop songs, but kept the band’s meandering experiments and lyrical gyroscopes at arm’s reach; then there was ‘Shields’, which took that sound and swept it up in the wind, offering a torrid, elemental response to a sound once comfortably baroque. If ‘Painted Ruins’ changes anything, it’s in another articulation: this is Grizzly Bear pronouncing their romantic sound with a dark snarl.
Having introduced hints of psychedelia with ‘Shields’ and its stormy chord expressions, ‘Painted Ruins’ offers a drama beyond boundaries, a loud, cataclysmic version of the Grizzly Bear sound that still feels wholly loyal to what they do. The textures are thick and full, with Droste handing “Mourning Sound” onto Rossen over beaming electronics, shambolic acoustic chords and a throbbing bass line. The sound sees them set up shop somewhere between swamp rock and surf pop, a collage of terrain that feels both earthy and magical. “Four Cypresses” breaks a marching order from drummer Chris Bear and turns it towards a noisy soundscape of deranged chords and dizzying vocal harmonies, like the roof of the band’s recording studio has been torn out by the sky. It’s wonderful to hear that they can turn these songs, meditative in the main, into howling and piercing epics.
It’s the same fully blasted energy all the way through, but they change up what it’s for, taking their inspirations and seeing how their sound would work on top. The oddly optimistic “Losing All Sense” sounds like they’re trying to impose their warped sound on the morningtime pop of Paul McCartney, while “Three Rings”, which twists guitars and sporadic drums around the void of love and existence, is something of a Radiohead nod. Moments of pure psychedelia take hold on them, suggesting those spooked guitar tones were no feint: it sounds like they’ve been nurturing this sound for years, “Aquarian” offering horror in its majestically distorted guitars, taking the summery purity of their favourite old-school pop outfits and making it a pantomime villain.
It all sounds very Grizzly Bear: never spread too thin, never really straying from what you’d expect Droste and Rossen to do with their big environment songs. Having recently said in an interview that they rarely write narratively, or towards a specific point of meaning, ‘Painted Ruins’ feels like the perfect example of a band who seem to feel out their songs, putting them into scenery before they take shape. This record is about its atmosphere: crunchy and weighty, but haunted by the paranormal. I'm glad there's finally a Grizzly Bear album that's trying to eat me.
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- Painted Ruins by Grizzly Bear